Planning a Trip to Disney World on a Budget: Top Tips + Costs

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Yes, planning a trip to Disney World on a budget is possible! It’s never going to be the cheapest trip, but there are many ways you can save money on accommodation, transport, and food.

We’ve been to Disney World in Orlando, Florida three times as adults. During the first two visits, we were on a tight budget and stayed in off-site motels and packed sandwiches.

On our last trip, we had more to spend and stayed in Disney World’s cheapest resort hotel and ate in the parks at a mix of fast food and table service restaurants.

They have all been wonderful experiences, and below I compare the costs of staying on-site vs off-site, explain step by step how to plan a Disney vacation on a budget, and give tips on how to save money on every aspect of your stay.

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2022 Update 

Things have mostly returned to normal at Disney World in 2022, although there are a few things that you should know:

  • You must make a reservation to visit a specific park using the Disney Park Pass Reservation System on their website. Check availability before you book your trip.
  • Park hopping is only allowed after 2pm (but it’s cheaper not to park hop).
  • Masks are no longer required.
  • FastPasses have been replaced with Genie+ and Lightning Lanes (see below). 
  • Disney Dining Plans are currently unavailable (but it’s generally cheaper not to use them anyway).

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How Much Does a Trip to Disney World Cost?

These are our exact Disney trip costs for two past trips. Costs have risen significantly over the last few years, though, so I also share how much a cheap trip to Disney World is likely to cost in 2022 (unfortunately, not that cheap).

I go into greater detail about the costs of different aspects of a Disney trip later in the post as well as comparing the pros and cons of staying on or off Disney property.

Our Disney Costs Staying Off-Site

The cheapest way to go to Disney World is by staying off-site in a cheap motel. We did this when visiting Disney as a couple in 2011 and 2015.

In 2015 we spent 10 nights in Orlando with six days in the four main Disney parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios) plus three days at the other Disney attractions (water parks and mini-golf).

We tried to be frugal and shopped at supermarkets for breakfast and lunch and ate dinners outside the parks as often as possible.

We spent a total of $2187 for two people which is $109 per person per day.

Here’s how our off-site Disney World shoestring budget for two breaks down per person per day:

  • Motel (Rodeway Inn Maingate) $22
  • Park Tickets $44
  • Food (Groceries and Eating Out) $20
  • Car hire and parking $23

See below for how much a similar trip will cost in 2022.

Our Disney Costs Staying On-Site in a Disney Value Resort

In November 2018, we stayed on-site in Disney’s cheapest resort, All-Star Music, for six nights including five full days in the main parks.

Other than some granola bars we brought with us, we ate all our meals in the Disney parks and also indulged in a couple of alcoholic drinks a day (which we mostly avoided on previous trips).

We spent a total of $2449 for two people which is $204 per person per day, nearly double what we spent staying off-site.

Here’s how our on-site Disney World budget for two breaks down per person per day:

  • Hotel and Tickets $139.50
  • Food $39
  • Alcohol $17
  • Gifts and Souvenirs $9

The cost of the hotel and tickets was a package we booked directly from the Disney website for six nights.

Transport is free for resort guests so we didn’t rent a car. Note that Disney’s Magical Express bus from the airport is no longer available, so transport to the parks will be an additional cost (the Mears shuttle is $32 roundtrip for adults or take an Uber/Lyft). 

We booked our trip seven weeks in advance and had to pay a $200 deposit initially and the balance one month before.

Example Costs for a Disney World on a Budget 2022 Trip

As prices have risen so much recently, here is a sample cost of a one week Disney on a budget trip (with six days in the parks) in November 2022 staying offsite.

The cost is per person per day travelling as a couple including tax.

  • Motel including breakfast (Rodeway Inn Maingate) – $30
  • Park Tickets – $89 (6 day basic tickets)
  • Food – $40 (variable)
  • Transport – $12 – $32

This works out at $171 – $191 per person per day, which is almost as much as we spent in 2018 staying onsite, so it really highlights how much ticket prices have increased in recent years.

The lower transport estimate is just enough to get an Uber/Lyft from the airport and back. You’d then have to rely on the free motel shuttle to visit the parks. In reality, you’ll likely want to allocate more for Ubers into the park for the most flexibility.

Cost of Staying On-Site at Disney World in 2022

What if you really want the convenience of staying on-site at a Disney resort—how much will that cost in 2022?

I searched for a week-long trip in November 2022 for two people. The cheapest accommodation was at the All-Star Music or Sports Resorts at $1,073 total or $77 per person per night.

If you purchase a package including room and park tickets, it’s $2,321 or $166 per person per night.

Add in basic food and an airport taxi and you’re looking at $218 per person per day.

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Choose the Best Time to Visit Disney World

Planning a trip to Disney World on a budget - choosing the best month to visit.
Despite ominous clouds at Hollywood Studios, it was still t-shirt weather in late November

Choosing the best time to visit Disney World is an important decision. The best time to visit Disney on a budget is in the offseason when prices of accommodation, flights and park tickets are lower and the parks are less crowded.

Late January and early February are usually the cheapest times to visit, although they were busier in 2022 (likely due to pent-up demand).

Late August and September are also low crowd times but it’s very hot and humid and hurricanes are a risk.

If at all possible, avoid school and public holidays. The busiest times are June to mid-August (especially around July 4), Christmas/ New Year, and Thanksgiving.

In recent years October has also become a busy month as the weather is ideal, and there are Halloween celebrations and the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, but I would still visit at this time of year.

Spring Break in April is another busy time, but we have visited twice in April just after Easter—it wasn’t too crowded and the weather was hot.

Our last trip was in November, 10 days before Thanksgiving and it was fine, although it was busier on the Saturday before Thanksgiving (our last day). The weather was mostly hot (we could swim in the resort pool) with two surprisingly cool days (I had to buy a sweater in the park!).

I recommend having a rough idea of the time you can visit Disney and then checking this ranking of the best weeks to visit Disney.

Usually, their top picks are in early November and early December (avoiding Thanksgiving).

You can also check crowd calendar predictions on Undercover Tourist

2022 Update: Check park reservations are available

In 2022, you need a park reservation as well as a ticket to enter the parks. You must book for specific dates and popular dates can be booked up well in advance.

Before you plan your Disney vacation, check park reservations are available for your dates on the availability calendar on the Disney website

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How Long to Stay at Disney World

Slinky Dog Dash in the popular new Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios
Slinky Dog Dash in the popular new Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios

Four full days is our minimum for a trip to Disney as it allows us to have a day in each of the main parks.

If you are visiting Disney as part of a longer trip around Florida, you could choose just one or two parks to visit, but they all are very different. It’s impossible for us to pick and doing more than one park in a day would be exhausting.

So even if you are planning a trip to Disney World on a budget, try to allow four full days if you can. 

Six or seven full days (7–8 nights) would be even better as it allows you to revisit some of the parks, have a rest day, or visit the two water parks.

On our last trip, we stayed for six nights with five full park days and wished we’d had an extra day for a rest/water park day in the middle.

On our previous trip where we stayed off-site in a cheap motel, we had 10 nights—six days in the main parks plus two days in the Disney water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach) and one day at Disney Springs (the shopping/restaurant area that doesn’t require a ticket) and Disney’s Winter Summerland mini-golf.

That was a bit much for me, but Simon the Disney fanatic loved it.

You might also want to allow a day or two to visit Universal Studios which is home to the wonderful Wizarding World of Harry Potter (we visited on a previous trip so just focused on Disney the last two times).

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Accommodation: Staying in a Disney Resort Vs Off-Site

Your biggest decision when planning a trip to Disney World on a budget is whether to stay in an on-site Disney resort or cheaper accommodation outside the parks. We’ve done both and had great experiences either way.

Here are our thoughts on the differences.

Staying in a Disney Resort

Unfortunately, changes Disney made in the last few years have reduced the advantages for on-site guests, but there are still some.

  • Accommodation is more expensive (from $136 plus tax a night).
  • Free shuttle buses between resorts and parks so you don’t need to rent a car or pay for parking. You now need to pay for transport from the airport though.
  • Resort guests can enter all parks 30 minutes early every day. This is especially useful for popular rides like Avatar at Animal Kingdom and the Star Wars rides at Hollywood Studios. 
  • In addition, guests at Deluxe Resorts will be able to stay late at Magic Kingdom and Epcot on select days.
  • You can book Individual Lightning Lanes (paid line skipping for certain rides) at 7am (rather than park opening).
  • You can make restaurant reservations 60 days before check-in plus up to 10 days of your trip (off-site guests don’t get those extra 10 days). This is useful if you want to eat in a popular restaurant like Cinderella’s Royal Table.
  • Packages purchased in park stores can be delivered to your resort.
Disney All Star Music resort - the cheapest resort to stay at in Disney World
Disney All-Star Music resort

If you do decide to stay in a Disney resort, the cheapest options are Disney Value Resorts including the various All-Star Resorts and Pop Century.

Pop Century is generally considered better, but the cheapest one available when we booked was All-Star Music, which has a standard rate of $161 plus tax per night. In the low season, there are discounted rates.

Our room at All-Star Music was similar to the basic motel rooms we usually book off-site with two double beds, an ensuite bathroom, air conditioning, free wifi, TV, and a mini-fridge (but no kettle).

There are two pools on-site (with lots of noisy kids!) and we were a fair walk from the restaurant/reception/bus stops.

It took us 20–40 minutes to get from All-Star Music to the parks including wait time for the bus which was never more than 15 minutes.

The restaurant is canteen style, and you can pick up snacks and baked goods for a quick breakfast.

Although our room and resort were basic, it worked well for us as we didn’t spend much time in our room and only had time to use the pool once.

Staying Off-Site

  • Accommodation is much cheaper with motels available from $40 plus tax a night.
  • You need a car to get to the parks, so you’ll need to pay for a car rental or taxis/Ubers. If you are really on a budget, some motels offer free shuttles to Disney parks but hours will be limited.
  • Parking at Disney parks is expensive at $25 a day.
  • You’ll be closer to inexpensive restaurants and grocery stores.
  • It’s a good option if you want to visit lots of other attractions in Orlando.

We have stayed in cheap motels in Kissimmee just outside the parks twice before. Last time we stayed at Rodeway Inn Maingate which is in the ideal location just a 10 to 15-minute drive from the Disney parks.

The motel rooms are simple, but they are comfortable enough with two double beds, ensuite, and WiFi, and there’s a pool.

We paid extra for a deluxe room with a microwave and fridge which is useful for saving money on food. Current rates are around $60 a night including taxes.

Other cheap motels in good locations are:

When you are booking a motel make sure you check the final price as the initial quoted price doesn’t always include taxes or service/resort fees.

You can search for more cheap motels near Disney World here

If you can afford it, stay at a Disney resort as we think the advantages are worth it.

But if you are on a tight budget, you can save money on food and accommodation by choosing a cheap motel off-site and still have a fantastic time.

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Booking Cheap Flights

The cost of flights to Disney World will depend on where you are coming from and the time of year.

The nearest airport to Disney World is Orlando International Airport (MCO) which is served by many budget airlines such as Southwest, JetBlue, and Spirit.

To find the cheapest flights to Orlando search on Kiwi.

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Car Rental vs Taxis

If you are staying at a Disney Resort you don’t need a car as you get free transport.

If you want to do Disney on the cheapest budget possible, then it’s likely you’ll stay in an off-site motel. Many have free shuttles but schedules are limited. For more flexibility, allocate a budget for Ubers/Lyft (up to $40 a day) or rent a car.

You used to be able to get cheap car rental deals—we’ve paid just £15 ($19) a day before, but prices have increased. I usually find the best car rental deals on Rental Cars.

You also have to pay $25 a day to park at Disney, so renting a car is not necessarily cheaper than taking taxis.

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Disney Ticket Costs

Disney World ticket prices per day in 2022
Choosing your Disney World tickets on the Disney website

The cost of Disney park tickets depends on how many days you want to spend in the park. It’s cheapest to buy a ticket that allows you to visit one park per day.

A one day ticket to Disney costs from $109 (+ tax) per day depending on the time of year. The cheapest tickets are in January, February, late August, and September. The highest ticket prices are at Christmas at $159 a day.

Kids under three don’t need a ticket. Kids aged 3–9 only pay a few dollars less than adults.

Prices go down the more days you buy. A four-day ticket costs from $106 per day whereas a seven-day ticket is from $69 a day.

To do a similar trip to our last visit—in November 2022, a six-day ticket for two people would be $1245.56 including tax ($585 per person).

Disney World ticket price calendar
The first day of your trip affects your ticket price. Here’s the price calendar for November 2022.

Park Hopper Tickets

You can buy a Park Hopper to visit multiple parks in one day, but this costs more and isn’t usually worth it. If you want to visit the water parks, though, the Park Hopper Plus option could be cost-effective.

A six-day Park Hopper Plus in November 2022 costs $735 incl tax, which is $150 more than a standard ticket, but you get six entries to the water parks and mini-golf. Entrance to water parks is $73, so you’d have to visit at least two to make this worthwhile or use the Park Hopper function.

Genie+

In October 2021, Disney introduced the paid Genie+ service to replace the free FastPass system. It costs $15 plus tax per person per day and allows you to skip lines by choosing a time to ride certain attractions.

This is an extra cost that could be worthwhile for Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. If you are on a tight budget, you can manage without by arriving early and/or staying late.

See my best Disney World rides post for more details on how this works.

I don’t recommend paying for Genie+ in advance. It’s easy to buy it in the Disney app on any day you decide you need it.

Where to Buy Disney Tickets

It’s best to buy your tickets on the Disney website (or with your accommodation if staying on-site) and create a My Disney Experience account.

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Eating at Walt Disney World on a Budget

Our Food Costs at Disney

Another important aspect of how to do Disney on a budget is your food expenses. You could spend hundreds of dollars a day if you ate at table service restaurants in the park every day, but there are definitely ways to lower costs.

When we stayed off-site and self-catered or ate in cheap restaurants outside of Disney most of the time, we spent $20 per person per day on food.

When we stayed in a Disney resort and ate all our meals in the parks (except for some granola bars we brought with us), we spent $39 per person per day on food (plus an extra $17 on alcohol). We mostly stuck to quick-service meals plus a few table service restaurants.

We splurged on a wine tour around Epcot's World Showcase with tastings in Italy, France and Germany
We splurged on a wine tour around Epcot’s World Showcase with tastings in Italy, France and Germany—$32 for six tastings.

Self-Catering

Food at Disney World is expensive, so the best way to save money is to bring your own food into the parks (which is allowed).

When we stay off-site, we make sure we have a fridge in our room and shop at supermarkets for breakfast and lunch ingredients and take sandwiches and snacks into the parks.

You should also bring your own water bottle—we love the collapsible Vapur bottle—and fill up at the water fountains that are found everywhere.

If you are staying at a Disney resort and don’t have a car, self-catering is more difficult as there are no supermarkets on-site (resort shops have basic items but they aren’t cheap).

You could use a grocery delivery service like Garden Grocer or take an Uber to a supermarket, but both these options add to the cost. On our last visit we decided it was easier to eat in the parks.

Cheap Restaurants Outside of Disney

It’s cheaper to eat dinner outside of the parks, which works well if you take a break in the afternoon and return to the parks after dinner (but you’ll need a car).

In the past, we used vouchers on Groupon or from our hotel to save on meals and ate at cheap restaurants like Cicis where the all you can eat pizza buffet costs just $8.99.

We also often ate at Earl of Sandwich at Disney Springs where a veggie sandwich costs $7.99. It’s good for your first night as you get the Disney vibe but don’t need a park ticket for the area. You can sometimes find coupons for here especially if you sign up for their newsletter.

Budget Disney Restaurants

Simon eating a Mickey cupcake at Disney World Magic Kingdom Main Street
It’s worth budgeting for a few treats at Disney like a Mickey cupcake!

Even when we were on a tight budget, we ate a few meals in the Disney parks and allowed the occasional treat as it’s part of the fun.

If you are staying on property, Disney usually offers Dining Plans (currently unavailable)—the cheapest Quick Service Dining Plan includes two quick-service meals and two snacks per person per night.

For an example 7-night booking I did, it cost $734.92 extra for two people which is $105 a day (not including tax). This is more than we spent paying our own way and we were able to have three table service meals as well.

The cheapest meals in the parks are at quick-service places where you order and pick up your food from a counter. Table service restaurants are a lot more expensive and you also need to tip (18–20% is standard).

Here are some examples of what we spent on food (not including tax):

  • Lighthouse Sandwich at Columbia Harbour House in Magic Kingdom – $10.69
  • Veggie Rice Bowl at Peco Bills in Magic Kingdom – $9.99
  • Tofu Lettuce Wraps at Sci-Fi Dine-In at Hollywood Studios (table service) – $16
  • Plato Vegetariano at San Angel Inn at Epcot (table service) – $19
  • Iced Vanilla Latte – $5.69
  • Mickey pretzel with cheese sauce – $6.59
  • Pint of ale at UK pub in Epcot – $9.75
  • Ice cream cone – $5.49
  • Mickey cupcake – $5.19
  • Large cinnamon bun at Kusafiri in Animal Kingdom – $7.49
  • Apple slices – $2.79
Snack stands are the cheapest places to purchase food in the parks
Snack stands are the cheapest places to purchase food in the parks, but you’ll save by bringing your own.

Peco Bills is a great option if you are on a budget at Disney because they have a free toppings bar, so you could share one main between two people and heap on the extras.

You can view all the Disney restaurant menus on the Disney website or app. You can also order meals on the app for some quick-service restaurants which allows you to skip the queues.

The cheapest option at Disney resorts is ordering a pizza to your room or picking it up from the food court—a large cheese pizza cost $15.99 and lasted us two meals.

Simon with a Mickey pretzel at Disney World
Simon with a Mickey pretzel

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Plan Your Days

Once you’ve booked your accommodation and park tickets, it’s time to plan your Disney schedule and decide which day you will visit each park. Being organized will help you avoid queues and save time.

  1. Check the crowd calendar for the time you are visiting to get an idea of which days in which parks are busiest.
  2. If you are a Deluxe resort guest, choose the days when there are Extended Evening Theme Park Hours if you want to stay late.
  3. Check the park opening times and note fireworks, show and parade times. You don’t want to visit Magic Kingdom when it closes at 6 pm if you want to see the fireworks.
  4. Using the above information, decide which day you’ll visit each park.
  5. Choose your priority rides in each park—see our post on the best things to do at Disney World for ideas.
  6. Decide if you want to eat at any table service restaurants (probably not if you’re on a tight budget) and make reservations. Some popular restaurants book up as soon as reservations open 60 days in advance.
  7. Save your schedule in your calendar—we use Google Calendar and can see our entries on the app on our phone even when offline.
  8. Download the Disney World app. It makes checking wait times on the day easier.
  9. On the day, consider purchasing Genie+ in the app and making ride selections from 7am.
Simon at Magic Kingdom castle
If you choose the right day and arrive early you can have parts of the park to yourself!

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Summary

I hope you’ve found these tips useful for planning a trip to Disney World on a budget.

Whether you stay in a cheap motel off-site or at a value Disney resort, there are plenty of ways to save money and still enjoy a fantastic trip in the most magical place on earth!

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12 Comments

  1. The only thing that doesn’t add up for me is the hotel. looking at that exact place now it’s over $220, there isn’t even an airbnb for $30 I don’t feel like any motel ever had a $30 a night cost?! And this was updated to say $40 in 2022 that makes no sense, 40 to 230 is not inflation, that sounds like an incorrect original price?

    Reply ↓

    • The costs given are per person, so $30 each i.e $60 for a room for a couple. When I looked it up a few months ago I could get it for that. Now looking for November 2022 I’m seeing that motel for $79 per night for a couple including tax. There are other motels available for $60 though.

      The exact price will depend on which dates you are looking for and how far in advance you are booking.

      Reply ↓

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